In many ways, the 2021 Tour de France was dominated by four central storylines.
The first week had Mathieu van der Poel’s stage win and stint in the yellow jersey, which he dedicated to his late grandfather Raymond Poulidor. The general classification was mainly about the brilliance of Tadej Pogačar, who won three stages en route to overall victory. Mark Cavendish’s incredible comeback and record-equaling 34th victory got plenty of attention. Finally, the versatility of Wout van Aert shone through with the Belgian winning a mountain stage, a time trial and a sprint stage for good measure.
These four men are unquestionably superstars of cycling. They each deserve the praise they have received for their remarkable performances at Le Tour.
However, they collectively make up just over 2% of the 184 riders who set out to start the race in Brittany.
With that in mind, here are three additional riders who made their mark on the 2021 Tour de France. Despite flying slightly more under the radar, these three men helped to produce a special edition of Le Tour.
Considering the success that Alaphilippe has enjoyed in his career, the Frenchman is no stranger to the spotlight. On the very first stage of the 2021 Tour de France, Alaphilippe uncorked a great attack that earned him a stage win and the race’s first yellow jersey. At that point, it looked as though we were in store for another lengthy Alaphilippe stint in yellow. It just so happened that Mathieu van der Poel’s double attack stole the spotlight the next day.
The 29-year-old was a lead animator throughout the race. He made his way into many breakaways, with his best result being a ninth place on stage 12. Perhaps more importantly, Alaphilippe played a key role in Mark Cavendish’s four sprint victories. Loulou was a vital part of Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s leadout train. This often resulted in the unique visual of the rainbow bands of the World Champion working on the front in the closing kilometers.
— Deceuninck-QuickStep (@deceuninck_qst) July 18, 2021
Alaphilippe’s victory on stage one was a shining moment from the Tour de France. His presence in the breakaway helped to liven up some of the most significant stages of the race. Lastly, Alaphilippe’s selflessness showed that even one of the world’s best can be a loyal teammate.
For a French team like AG2R Citroën, nothing is more important than Le Tour de France. As a result, it is very important to the sponsors and the management that the riders put on a show. Ben O’Connor did exactly that. Sitting in 14th place after stage eight, the Australian went on a bold raid in the mountains of stage nine. He took the victory by over five minutes ahead of his breakaway companions, and over six minutes on race leader Tadej Pogačar. The result vaulted O’Connor all the way up to second place, right in the thick of the GC battle.
Gagner sur le Tour. 💛
— AG2R CITROËN TEAM (@AG2RCITROENTEAM) July 4, 2021
O’Connor had previously won a Grand Tour stage at the 2020 Giro d’Italia. However, the 25-year-old’s best GC result was 20th at the aforementioned Giro. O’Connor slid back to fifth on stage 11 and to sixth on stage 14, but he battled gamely on.
O’Connor shone in the Pyrenees. The Aussie rode steadily and hauled himself up to fourth overall, a result that he held into Paris. In the end, O’Connor produced one of the most impressive GC results from the 2021 Tour de France. The fact that he did so by going on the offensive and earning a great stage victory makes it even better.
In 2020, Sepp Kuss confirmed his ascendency as one of the finest climbing domestiques in the sport. At Le Tour and La Vuelta, he was there to guide Primož Roglič up some of the toughest climbs in the world. In 2021, Kuss was set to be a key part of a Jumbo-Visma team looking to put Roglič on the top step of the final podium at the Tour de France after he finished second a year prior.
However, things did not go according to plan. Roglič crashed early on, eventually abandoning the race prior to the ninth stage. Kuss himself was caught up in the falls and lost 16 and a half minutes on the very first day. It took the American a little while to rediscover his form. Eventually, he conjured up his climbing legs in a big way. On stage 15 Kuss took a great win by being the strongest climber in the breakaway and then holding off Alejandro Valverde on familiar Andorran roads.
"You're flying Sepp!" 🦅 pic.twitter.com/Q8XWBzMd0m
— Team Jumbo-Visma cycling (@JumboVismaRoad) July 11, 2021
After his moment of personal glory, Kuss committed himself totally to the GC ambitions of teammate Jonas Vingegaard. He was particularly strong on stage 18, when he finished sixth after setting tempo deep into the climb of Luz Ardiden. In the end, Kuss helped Vingegaard finish second in Paris. Even with some unforeseen complications for himself and the team, Kuss was one of the brightest climbers in the race.
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Featured image courtesy of @AG2RCITROENTEAM.